Unexpected encounter, part IV

Many, many thanks to my friend Chayil for encouraging me to write this week in the middle of summer insanity.  I’m not sure how everyone else manages family, home, kids, church, AND work, but Stu and I don’t do a very good job.  While we’re working, school is all-consuming.  As a result, other things don’t get done.  I’m currently buried by endless laundry in a house that I would be embarrassed to host visitors in… even a month after school got out for the summer.  I could use work as an excuse, but the fact is that when we come home, we want to do just about ANYTHING but clean our house.  So we put it off and put it off until summer comes and we can’t stand being at home.  Plus we’ve been traveling for work (me to Jacksonville for an AP Summer Institute and Stu to Sarasota for yearbook camp) and doing other projects… so that’s summer insanity.  I could have been doing a million other things… writing curriculum, scouring websites for AP resources, sorting laundry, folding socks, or sleeping (it is 1 am after all), but I’m writing.  And I’m thrilled about it.

So here’s a continuation of Zara’s story.  Catch up on it here, here, and here.  And thanks for visiting!

Once everyone had plates piled with pasta, salad, and bread, the three dinner companions fell silent to enjoy the meal.  For Zara, she took the few moments of quiet to think about her realization about Jack.  What did it mean that he was jealous of Steve?  This wasn’t her first date; in college she had dated regularly, but not for any extended period of time.  Only after college had she dated seriously; she had been with Matt for three years before a transfer took him to San Francisco and ended their relationship.  Jack had been a good friend to Matt and they often spent evenings together.  Occasionally Matt and Zara would serve as dating buffers for him; Jack would prearrange to bring his newest lady friend along with him to dinner with Matt and Zara, and they would help Jack make decisions about whether or not he should see them again.  In fact, Jack had initiated a relationship with Mary, the girl Zara was sure he would marry, at a meal with Matt and Zara.  Mary was beautiful, successful, and so calm in dealing with Jack.  Zara’s only complaint was that Mary never seemed eager to form a relationship with her; in the years that Jack and Mary dated, Zara was only, at best, an acquaintance to her.  But that relationship had ended almost a year ago, without drama or any swell of emotion from Jack as far as Zara could tell, and Jack had picked up where he left off, dating women, introducing them to Zara for her approval, but never taking anyone very seriously.

“So, Steve, how was your day?” Zara asked, suddenly aware of the direction of her thoughts.  She would not allow Jack to dominate this meal, whether he meant to or not.

Steve beamed at this opening.  “Well, I spent most of the morning managing a large claim from an important client.  Evidently, a fire caused significant damage to one of this company’s major manufacturing operations.  But I was able to provide significant comfort in a difficult time.  Normally, I don’t work with clients,” Steve smiled to himself a little, but Zara could tell he was holding back.  “But I’ve had some encouragement from the department manager to get my feet wet in customer relations.”

Steve fixed a bright, expectant look at Zara then.  “Oh, that’s really great, Steve,” Zara smiled, but wasn’t quite sure what this meant.

“I think what Steve is trying to tell you is that a manager is looking to diversify his role within the company, perhaps move him to account management, which would require significant customer contact,” Jack interjected.  Zara frowned.  “Is that about right, Steve?”

“Oh yes,” Steve responded, a slight frown wrinkling his forehead.  “I didn’t realize there was confusion.”

“It’s just that I didn’t know you were interested in working more closely with customers.  You told me you were proudly just a numbers man,” Zara persisted.  For some reason, this news rankled her.

“Well, I am,” Steve frowned more deeply now, “but as I work with customers, my own standing with the company will improve.  This really is good news, Zara,” Steve smiled at her then looked to Jack, as if asking for his help.

“Of course.  If you’re happy, I’m happy for you.  But I don’t know how you could fit more into your already very busy work schedule.”  Zara smiled as she uttered the last, but was really concerned.  Steve was already consumed by work; she could guess what this development would mean.  Jack seemed to sense her frustration.

“Steve, does your work give you much time for relaxation?  For leisure?” Jack asked, jumping at the opening.  “You must work 80 hours a week as it is!”  Steve beamed at the compliment.

“Well, no actually.  I’m very lucky that the office provides a gym space for employees or I fear I wouldn’t get any exercise.  And if I continue to eat like this,” he smiled at Zara, “I would weigh 500 pounds!”

Zara’s nostrils suddenly flared as the cause of her discontent dawned on her: this man, who Zara had invested three weeks of her time, was casually congratulating himself on a work development that would make it nearly impossible to foster a relationship with her.

“I guess I’m lucky that you could spare time tonight,” Zara smiled, a saccharin smile that Steve didn’t recognize as such.

“A man’s got to eat,” Steve grinned, leaning toward Jack with an uncharacteristic eyebrow wiggle.  “But I’ve got a few hours of processing to be done tonight after dinner.”  Jack just smiled; Zara fumed.

“What about you, Jack? How did the law treat you today?” Steve couldn’t keep the goofy giddiness from his voice.

“I’m sure Zara has told you, but I work at a firm that specializes in business law.  However, I’m lucky enough that my practice encourages associates to participate in community service.  So I spent my day today offering pro bono legal advice through a program sponsored by my firm,” Jack never took his eyes off Steve.  “That’s why my day ran so late.  I never like to leave before everyone has been helped.  It makes for quite an interesting day, I’ll tell you.”

Zara knew how Jack spent his day.  He participated monthly, and more often when he was able.  He was always exhausted after these days, but to a certain extent, more joyful and full of life.  But for the second time tonight, she was forced to see Steve in light of Jack, and she wasn’t happy with what she saw.


How to change a life

This week marks the end of another school year, and I’m not sad.  It hasn’t been the greatest year of my career; I’ve grown immeasurably as a leader and a teacher, and I’ve gotten a clearer vision of what I want for myself in my future, but I’ve struggled with frustrations about the nature of my work, sometimes feeling stuck or downright discouraged when I felt like I cared a whole lot more than my kids.

It always seems that when I’m faced with these dark moments that I experience these flashes of brilliance and I’m reminded why I’m in education.  Because teachers really do change lives.  We don’t always know we’re doing it, and if we’re asked, we might say that we hadn’t made a difference for anyone.  But beyond what is expressed on all of the cheesy inspirational images on Facebook about all the good teachers do, we really do change lives.

Stu started teaching four years ago with a very challenging assignment: he was given two sections of Dropout Prevention (I’m not sure if that was the course title, but it was something like that) and three sections of English I.  Those were dark days for Stu.  I tried the best I could to help him (as much as he would allow) but he struggled to keep the interest of those students, to manage their behaviors, to connect with them and help them to achieve.  He tried to use techniques and strategies he had learned in his eduction courses and in his internship with gifted students at the middle school, but one strategy after another failed, and Stu was left to feel useless and stressed.  At the end of the year, he insisted that his schedule change because he had such a hard time with it.  Stu would never say that he made a difference for any of the kids in that class, but on Monday he received a note from a student he taught in English I that year.  She said: “I wanted to thank you personally for helping me enroll in honors and advanced classes, because without having done that I may not be going to USF now.”  Stu hadn’t been in contact with her at all in the years in between, but this student recognized that his involvement in her education changed the trajectory of her life.

Last week, I had visits from two of my favorite students (I know I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I can’t help it).  One student, Lauren, was in town to visit family before spending her summer working at an internship in DC and then heading off to NYU in August for law school.  I’m sorry, Lauren, if you’re reading this because I’m about to tell your story.  I taught Lauren as a freshman, sophomore, and senior in my first ever AP Literature class.  I knew she was something special from the day she walked into my classroom, and she has never proven me wrong.  Lauren was valedictorian of her senior class and attended Emory University where she did even more remarkable things.  I nearly peed my pants when Lauren announced that she had been accepted into Harvard Law School (cue Perfect Day lyrics here).  Ultimately, Lauren recently interviewed for, and earned, a very prestigious scholarship to NYU law school.  In fact, she interviewed in DC with Justice Clarence Thomas in his offices.  At the Supreme Court.  You know, because that’s normal.

Such a remarkable young woman seems like she can do all things on her own.  But Lauren has never let me forget how thankful she was to have had me for the majority of her English courses in high school.  I helped Lauren on her way (honestly though, she would have done brilliantly in anyone’s English classes; I’m just glad I was lucky enough to teach her).

It isn’t just teachers who make this kind of impact.  Our parents or children, our families and friends, our bosses or coworkers, our pastors, the random girl you speak to on a two-hour flight, all have the potential to make a difference.  If we let them.  And we have the potential to make a difference for anyone we come into contact with if we’re engaged enough to recognize the opportunity.

Unexpected encounter, part III

Here for the first time?  Read part I and part II before getting started here… and thanks for reading!

Steve was still rattling off statistics about Yale and its merits as Zara’s world shifted on its axis.  Jack?  She was suddenly intensely aware: of his presence, of the subtly angry cast of his face as he gathered a bottle of wine from her tiny collection on the counter, of the faint smell of his cologne, the same cologne he had been wearing since he graduated from high school.  It was a gift from her.

Oh dear, she thought to herself.  Jack wasn’t attending this little meal as a casual friend, a pest intent on disrupting her evening for fun.  He was jealous, and she was suddenly incensed.

For the first three years of their acquaintance, Jack had been a spectacularly platonic friend to Zara: they spent hours sitting on the concrete steps to her front door, perfecting the basketball spin between games of HORSE, they hiked through the woods behind their neighborhood, talking for hours and picking through muddy ditches.  But Jack spent the summer before his senior year lifeguarding at the beach near his grandmother’s house, and Zara took a job at the local Twistee Treat.  She was surrounded by gossiping girls, who quickly discovered that Zara’s best friend was the very tall, very handsome Jack Cooper, and Zara was suddenly forced to reckon with the fact that her best friend Jack was more than the goof ball who stole more than his share of popcorn at the movies or exploited his height advantage in basketball.  It made her nervous, unnervingly so, to even speak to him on the phone.  She steadily built a crush on Jack while he was 100 miles from home, convincing herself that he would come home in August and fall desperately in love with her.  Unfortunately, the reality was less pleasant; in the small town where he spent the summer, Jack became a hot commodity, and he came home with a serious tan, muscles honed from the outdoor work, and a girlfriend named Amelia.

Their reunion was one of Zara’s most uncomfortable memories.  He called to tell her he was back in town and asked if he could come by Twistee Treat that evening for an ice cream.  Zara, who didn’t know anything of Amelia, complied instantly with his plan, and spent the two hours before her shift primping in front of the mirror, blowing her hair until it fell smooth into soft waves down her back, applying unfamiliar black eye liner and mascara, and obsessing about what to say to her best friend.  She even rehearsed a few flirtatious lines she heard her coworkers use on the hopeless boys who made the shop their summer hangout.  Zara even practiced laughing demurely at the mirror.  The rest of this story is pretty obvious: Zara worked nervously until nine when she caught a glimpse of Jack through the tiny glass window, her smile huge until she followed his hand, which was pulling Amelia behind him.  The only consolation to her heartbreak was that Zara never revealed her crush on Jack to any of the gossiping girls at the Twistee Treat.

“Hey Z,” he had said when he sidled up to the window, “Since when do you wear eye liner?”

And in that moment, Zara schooled her expression as he introduced Amelia, a tall, very buxom blonde with a beautiful tan.  They had met lifeguarding.

From that summer night, Zara decided that it would be best for her if she protected her heart from Jack.  So his sudden and inconvenient jealousy was wholly unfair to her and Steve and whatever they had started at the coffee shop three weeks before.

Zara stiffened and bristled as Jack moved away from her, snatching potholders carelessly to drain the pasta, and burning her finger in the process.  When she snatched her hands away from the offending implement, Jack relieved her of her potholders and carefully took over the task.

“I’m sure Steve doesn’t want to waste this evening at the emergency room, Z.  Be more careful,” Jack said, smiling at Steve where he still stood at the edge of the counter.

“Uh, yes.  Zara, please be more careful.  Kitchen incidents are responsible for a significant number of insurance claims, after all,” Steve said solemnly.  Zara couldn’t help but roll her eyes.

Finally, dinner was ready.  Zara poured the drained pasta into a massive serving bowl, and then poured her famous sauce over the whole, arranging meatballs artfully on top.  Jack arranged Zara’s garlic bread into a basket.  Steve, who finally seemed spurred to action by both Zara and Jack finding their way to Zara’s living room laden with some dinner necessity, found Zara’s impressive cheese grinder and followed.  Zara placed the massive bowl of pasta into the center of her square coffee table with a flourish, sat cross-legged on the floor across from the couch, and made quick work of serving herself some spaghetti.  Jack toed off his loafers and slid to the floor as well, loosening his tie before serving himself some salad.  Neither paid Steve any attention as he seemed to battle internally with proper etiquette for the situation: both his host and her other guest had made themselves comfortable on the floor, but that was not where he would be most comfortable.  Ultimately, he decided to follow Jack’s lead, and after removing his shoes, he sat on the floor beside Zara.

“Can I serve you some spaghetti, Steve?” Zara asked amiably, suddenly certain that the only course to take was to ignore Jack and his jealously as much as possible.

“Please,” answered Steve, who still seemed quite unsure of how to handle this strange meal.

Unexpected encounter, part II

Wow, I’m having fun thinking about Zara, Jack, and Steve.  But this story is already bigger than I intended.  Read ahead for Part II…  and if you have any ideas for a better title than “Unexpected Encounter,” please let me know in the comments!

Read the beginning of Zara’s story here.

Zara had met Steve Kaufman, predictably, at her favorite bookstore, where she was grading papers one Friday evening.  She had ordered a black coffee from the friendly barista, but managed to pick up his latte instead.  His sputtering upon taking a hearty gulp of her coffee when he expected the much more mild latte and the ensuing confusion had all the makings of a meet-cute, but his restraint prevented anything more than a few shared words over the mishap.  Steve was cute in an absentminded professor sort of way, and Zara offered a few attempts at conversation, but he went about scolding the barista for her mistake and requesting another latte.  At his apparent disinterest, Zara shrugged her shoulders and waited patiently for another cup of coffee before returning to her papers.  A solid 10 minutes later, Steve seemed to remember himself, finally approaching her and striking up a conversation.  He even apologized to her and the barista for being so short, and Zara was persuaded to give him her phone number as he arranged to take her to lunch that Sunday.  That had been three weeks ago.

Before she could open the door herself, Jack stepped quickly to the entryway and opened the door for her guest.  Just as Steve hadn’t really seemed to notice anything of Zara’s appearance in their earlier meetings, Zara didn’t really notice how Steve looked until she saw him in contrast to Jack.  Steve, too, had just come from work, but his long day didn’t really seem to agree with him.  He wore a pair of subtly shiny taupe slacks, which she supposed would be pretty luxurious if they weren’t paired with a brown crew neck sweater.  He wore his brown, curly hair long on top, which, paired with his dark framed glasses, gave him an impossibly youthful look.  Steve looked completely perplexed to find Jack at the door, and looked down at the index card he held in his hand as if to confirm that Jack was in the wrong place.

“You must be Steve,” Jack began, solicitously.  “I’m Zara’s best friend, Jack.  I hope you’ll forgive me crashing your dinner.”  Jack moved to the side, allowing Steve to pass, but didn’t offer any explanation for his presence.

“Of course,” Steve began, his deep voice confused but untroubled, “Zara has told me a lot about you.”  This information caused Jack to grin blindingly, giving Zara a meaningful look from across the alcove.

“Hello, Steve,” Zara began, and leaned in to give Steve a peck on the cheek.  Jack’s grin faded instantly.  “Yes, Jack conveniently ignored the fact that I had a dinner guest tonight and showed up unannounced.  I can kick him out if you like,” she said, and frowned lightly when he shook his head.

“No, no.  That won’t be necessary,” he said as he looked around her apartment.  There was only interest in his eyes, and she was glad for it.  Her tiny one bedroom apartment wasn’t much, but it was home.  In a way, this was a test.  If Steve was going to be a snob about her place, she would rethink spending time with him.  Jack closed the door and found his way back to his usual spot at the bar and an uncomfortable realization struck.  She didn’t have any place for three people to share a meal; she didn’t have a dining room table.  With a resigned shrug of the shoulders, she realized they would be huddling around her coffee table to eat their spaghetti and salad.

“So Steve, tell me about yourself.  What do you do for a living?” Jack began amiably.

Steve blinked a little at the direct question, but looked Jack in the face.  “I work as an accountant for an insurance firm here in the city,” he answered steadily, almost flatly, without elaborating further.  He stood, looking vaguely uncomfortable, at the edge of the counter with his hands pushed into his pockets.

“I’ll just start the pasta,” Zara interjected, suddenly uncomfortable.  “I’m afraid we’ll have to eat in the living room, gentlemen.”  At her words, Jack started gathering plates and silverware to take into the living room, but Steve stood fast.

“I hope you’ve had a chance to read the article I emailed earlier this week, Zara,” Steve began, as if he was aware that he needed to make some conversation.

“Yes,” Zara’s response came, clipped.  “Why else do you think I invited you over to dinner tonight?”

“What article?” Jack asked, amused by Zara’s tone.

“In my field, I am regularly reminded of how very important it is to be wise about our spending.  I shared with Zara an article from the New York Times about how twenty somethings are notoriously reckless about their spending habits,” Steve responded with more vigor than he’d managed since he got there.  Jack barked out a laugh.

“Yes, it is very important that we are wise about our spending, isn’t it Zara?  Some of us don’t have lucrative careers, do we?” Jack’s pointed stare made Zara’s blood boil.

“As it happens, I agree with the points made.  I am a teacher, after all, and I shouldn’t be frivolous,” Zara’s concession, even though it was made to silence Jack, still set her teeth on edge.

“It isn’t only about income, Zara,” Steve cautioned.  “I am so lucky as to have secured a comfortable living, but I am constantly reminded that I should be more frugal.”  Jack smiled to himself, but sensing Zara’s discomfort, he changed the subject.

“Where did you go to school?  You must have a very impressive education if you’ve been so lucky to secure such a great job,” Jack asked.

“I graduated from Yale, and you’ll never know a finer institution,” Steve declared boldly, but suddenly remembering himself, he added, “Of course, the University of Virginia is a very respectable regional institution.”  At that, Jack’s smile faltered somewhat, but he gritted his teeth.

“When is that pasta going to be done, Z?” Zara, for her part, had been quiet for this brief exchange, and she smiled at Jack’s discomfort.  Jack was a proud Wahoo and would take any insult to his alma mater very personally.  But he had insisted upon these games by coming to her apartment tonight and provoking Steve, so she fought a smile.

“In just a few minutes.  Steve, why don’t you tell Jack about Yale’s admissions numbers?  Jack, Steve is a generous benefactor of the university.” With that encouragement, as Steve started rattling off statistics about the most recent class of students admitted into Yale, their high school GPAs, their SAT scores, their remarkable achievements, Zara turned away and barely concealed her laugh.  He deserved it, she thought.  But she stopped short when Jack pressed against her with the pretense of reaching over her head for another glass and whispered low into her ear.

“You’ll pay for that,” he warned.

Unexpected encounter

This is a departure from the writing I’ve done here so far.  I’ve done a whole lot of writing ABOUT myself, but today I hope you’ll indulge me as I do a little writing FOR myself.  I love fiction, and in my reading over the past few months, I’ve been struck with the desire to write more of that… making up stories and helping characters to come to life.

So here is the beginning of a short story about a woman who begins an evening expecting to entertain one date, but who finds herself caught between two.  When I took part in the Tampa Bay Area Writer’s Project a few years back, my instructors told me to stop prefacing my work, so without further ado…

“Just a minute, I’ll be right there!” shouted Zara over her shoulder toward the front door of her apartment.  “He’s thirty minutes early,” she grumbled to herself as she pulled the comb through her still wet hair.

Zara gave herself a brief glance into the mirror before leaving her bedroom.  Her wavy brown hair dangled limply around her shoulders, her face was washed clean of makeup that she hadn’t had time to reapply.  But her skin was smooth and porcelain, her blue eyes bright and darkly lashed.  Briefly she was tempted to apply a little lip-gloss, but shook her head to herself.  Steve wasn’t picky.  In their three dates he hadn’t once made a comment about her appearance.  Perhaps a low maintenance guy was exactly what she needed.  Her favorite, well-loved jeans and a classic gray t-shirt would have to do.

A sharp knock sounded again.  It wasn’t like Steve to be so impatient.  She rolled her eyes to herself as she made her way to the door.

“Hey gorgeous,” the completely unexpected visitor drawled when she opened the door.  He swept into the room, pulling her into his arms and lowering his nose deliberately to the top of her still damp head, taking a deep breath.  “Z, I love your shampoo.”

“Jack, what on earth are you doing here?” Zara couldn’t keep the irritation out of her voice.  When they had spoken earlier in the day, she made it clear that she wasn’t available that night, that she was making Steve her famous cooks-all-day spaghetti and meatballs.  But her best friend was often hard headed, and hard of hearing.  Or that’s what he would like to pretend, especially when she told him what he didn’t want to hear.

“I’ve come to visit my favorite girl in the world, of course,” Jack beamed, and Zara relented; she couldn’t resist his charm.  Grinning, she looped her arm around his waist and led him into the kitchen where he promptly claimed his usual spot at her counter.  He was still wearing his work clothes, dark gray, perfectly tailored slacks, a crisp white Oxford, and a slim argyle tie.  For someone who had just wrapped a nearly 12-hour day, Jack looked impossibly fresh.

“Well, my friend, you have about 30 minutes before you’re going to have to make yourself scarce.  I’m making Steve dinner tonight.”  She pulled her enormous pasta pot from under the counter, and turning away from him, Zara started filling it with water.  At that mention of spaghetti, Jack took a deep breath.

“That must be why I couldn’t resist coming over.  I’m a sucker for your sauce,” he grinned, leaning over the counter for the wooden spoon she’d left there, snatching the top off of her slow cooker, and stirring the sauce before sneaking a taste.

“Stop that!” Zara scolded as she turned around to catch Jack with a mouth filled with her wooden spoon.  He at least had the grace to appear repentant, but Zara had to reach over the counter to wipe away a spot of sauce that was caught at the corner of his mouth.  It was unexpectedly intimate; Jack coughed a little and the moment was broken.

“I thought I’d stick around for dinner, meet this Steve,” Jack said dismissively.  When Zara opened her mouth to object, he smoothly continued.  “You’re not going to wear that, are you?  What about your makeup?  This is a date, after all.”  His distraction technique worked.

“I think it’s refreshing that I don’t need to worry about what Steve thinks about how I look,” Zara said, but even to her own ears the excuse seemed thin.  “Besides, I just got home from work and I haven’t had a chance to do anything more than shower.”

“Well then, it’s good I’m here.  I can finish up the salad and bread while you finish getting ready,” Jack said, stepping off his perch at the counter and gently leading her toward her room.

“Oh fine,” Zara said, almost to herself as she walked into her room, suddenly grateful for a few more minutes to herself before Steve’s arrival.  She would have to deal with Jack’s inconvenient visit before Steve arrived, but she was too grateful to have a little help that she was willing to overlook it, for the moment.

This is pretty typical Jack behavior, and to be honest, Zara should have known to avoid mentioning her spaghetti to him.  But they had been best friends for years, since meeting for the first time when she was a brand new student at their high school.  She walked into her first period class, hopelessly tentative, a recent transplant from Suffolk, England, and froze, completely shaken by the dozens of pairs of eyes that landed on her instantly.  Jack walked in behind her, towering over her even then, as a sophomore in high school, and warmly greeted her.  “You must be new here.  My name is Jack.  Come over here and sit by me.”  And that was it.  They were fast friends, and as it turned out, lasting friends.  When Jack graduated from high school and left for the University of Virginia, Zara followed a year later.  When Jack was admitted to law school at Georgetown University, Zara followed a year later, accepting a teaching position in suburban northern Virginia.  He teased his shadow endlessly, but Zara didn’t complain.  She loved being close to him, even when it meant her date nights would be interrupted.

At her vanity, Zara suddenly wasn’t terribly interested in fixing herself up, but dutifully she applied blush, a swipe of eyeliner, and the subtlest lipstick she could find.  Then she went to her closet to replace her gray t-shirt with a royal blue sweater that revealed more of her shape.  After scrunching her waves artfully, Zara rejoined Jack in the kitchen, where he was layering vegetables in a serving bowl.  His eyes fell on her, and she stopped, turning briefly as if to get his approval.  All of his earlier levity was gone; his gaze was more serious than any he’d had all evening.

“That’s better,” he said gruffly.  “And dinner is nearly ready.  You just need to drop the pasta when this Steve gets here.”  Jack wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“Well, thanks so much for your help, Jack,” Zara attempted.  She bustled into the kitchen to take over washing the cutting board in the sink, but Jack wasn’t having it.

“Oh no, you’re not getting rid of me, friend.  I said I wanted to meet this Steve, so I’m going to meet Steve.  Plus, you have to feed me.”

Just as Zara opened her mouth to protest in earnest, a gentle buzz began at the door.  Steve was right on time.

I’ll write more about Zara and Jack (and Steve) next week!


Eight Things

Earlier this week, I messaged my friend Chayil for some inspiration about what to write this week.  She challenged me to write 8 things I love about myself and why.  If you know me outside of blogging, this is a real struggle for me, but I’m not afraid of a challenge.  So here goes…

  1. I love my eyebrows.  I’ll never be able to say that my eyebrows are low maintenance exactly, but I’ve always gotten compliments on this random feature of my face.  But they frame my otherwise boring brown eyes, and they are super expressive.  Plus, I don’t have to fill them in, and I’ve never plucked them to the point of needing damage control.
  2. I love that I love to create.  When I have down time from the business of teaching, I’m crafting unit plans, which totally counts as creating, or writing for this blog, or playing with Photoshop or Illustrator.  My second novel is rattling around in my head, waiting to get put on paper.  I love music and art.  It makes me feel whole and fulfilled.
  3. I love my drive to learn.  I take pride in the fact that even though I’ve been teaching for 13 years that I still love to learn more about the craft.  I’m not complacent…  I don’t just dig out my old handouts from the filing cabinet, or from the files on my computer, to teach from every year, but I always ask how what I’ve done in the past can be improved.
  4. I love that I love Jesus.  My relationship with Jesus has grown so much since I was saved in 2004, but I can look back to the person I was before I was saved and see how much my love for my savior has changed me, softened me, grown me.
  5. I love that I’m still moved to tears by experiences.  Perhaps this makes me too tender hearted, but I don’t EVER want to let go of the joy I feel to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July, or to stop crying at worship from the movement of the Holy Spirit, or to let go of the feelings I get when I read an incredible book.  Life would be so boring that way.
  6. I love my relationship with my parents.  It hasn’t always been easy, but I am so grateful to have built a strong, steady relationship with my parents.  I love that I can call them and it isn’t hard to just talk or share our days.
  7. I love that when I wear purple, my eyes look green.  Brown eyes are pretty boring, even though Van Morrison memorialized them pretty spectacularly.  But in my first year of teaching AP, a student asked me to look at her.  So I did.  And she looked back at me with such an intense stare that I was left to wonder if I had something in my nose.  When she finally looked away, I asked her what that look was all about.  She said, “Oh nothing.”  It turns out she was using me as the inspiration for a poem I had asked them to write, and she had complimented my hazel eyes (!)  What a nice compliment that was, and how random that I remember it even now.
  8. I love my naiveté.  Let’s face it, this one isn’t always a good thing.  But I’ve found myself blinded to a number of things this year, and when all was revealed, I realized how lucky I was to have missed the signs of something obvious.  As a result, I was less stressed about the possibility of something scary, and while I wasn’t thinking or stressing about it, I was able to be pretty relaxed.

OK, Dad…  I challenge you to do the same!

Falling in love, in fifty words

If you’ve been reading here this month, you should know that I don’t have any trouble with word count.  I’m pretty verbose.  My dad often complains that I take forever to come to the point of any story I tell, and any application that requires 100 words MAX causes me to have a fit.  And I almost NEVER write only 100 words; the readers of those applications don’t actually count, do they?

Well, I’m writing this post as a response to this Weekly Writing Challenge, the Fifty.  The challenge is really poignant for me, especially since I can’t manage to be concise.  The object: write a story in exactly fifty words, with the purpose of using every word, every sentence, every thought purposefully.  So here goes.  (and if you’re interested in irony, the preface to this post is 126 words.  Good grief)

She crouched to pick up her dropped papers, stunned by his intense glare that revealed only pity at her clumsiness. Kneeling, he reached to hand her a sheet that escaped her, grazing his hand over hers. Embarrassed and intrigued, she stammered a thank you. His answering lunch invitation stupefied her.

Can you tell I’m a romance writer?  This felt a lot like writing a haiku, but now even I’m excited about the story that can come from this little nugget.

As always, thanks for reading!

You may not know…

I’m a little short on inspiration today, and yesterday for that matter.  I only have seven more days of writing for my Camp NaNoWriMo challenge, but I don’t really feel like writing.  I want to snuggle under the covers and go to bed early.  But one thing about NaNoWriMo, or any writing challenge really, is that on days like today, when the struggle is real, I can count on my pride to be enough motivation to get me through.

So I’m going to share some things you, my readers, might not know about me.

  1. I’m afraid of walking on broken glass.  You can thank my dad who let me watch Die Hard a little bit too young.  I haven’t been able to stop worrying about pulling shards of glass out of my feet like John McClane.  Ouch.
  2. I’m blind as a bat.  I started wearing glasses when I was in late elementary school, ensuring middle school would be even that much more awkward.  I almost never wear my glasses now because I see better with my contacts and I’m a little too vain to endure wearing my thick-lensed glasses.
  3. My favorite color is yellow.  Or pink.  But I always wear black.  I’m told I look pretty in blue.
  4. I value time alone.  A friend from church posted a really funny status on Facebook about how she’s likely sleep deprived because she values the quiet of a sleepy house too much to waste it on actual sleep.  I couldn’t agree more.  I value getting lost in a good book, and I am energized by my time alone.  But sometimes I say that I value time alone when I’m not so much seeking peace but pushing others away.  Yeah, not always a good thing.
  5. I’m really sad because one of my favorite foods in the world is movie theater popcorn, but when I went to see The Muppets with Cari, the smell made me a little sick.  Am I growing out of one of my favorite things?
  6.  I took piano lessons when I was in elementary school, but I complained enough that my parents called them off.  I could tell you that my teacher pushed mechanical pencils into my fingers when I played the wrong notes, and that was the reason for my complaints, but I hated practicing.  I’m so sad that I didn’t stick with it and I would love to learn.  I have a feeling that I’ll be a 50 year old taking lessons one day, playing scales and arpeggios or preparing some piece for a recital with a bunch of 9 year olds.  Do 50 year olds taking piano lessons for the first time even play in recitals?
  7. When I was in high school and college I worked as a lifeguard during summers for extra money.  In Virginia, it is more expensive to NOT have a lifeguard and pay for the extra insurance than it is to pay a teenager $8/hour, plus they keep the place clean.  I had to certify to be a lifeguard twice, which meant I had to take a swimming endurance test that involved holding a brick over my head while I tread water for three minutes.  I thought I was a strong swimmer, but that test wore me out.  I made it and worked as a guard through college, taking days off after I had graduated to interview for my first REAL job.  I was super tan.
  8. I dated a boy in college who threw rocks at my window to get my attention.  At the time I thought it was super romantic.  I look back now and realize that he was kind of a creeper.  He had tattoos and a drinking problem.  Not the wisest choice.
  9. I have three tattoos.  I got the first one when I was 18, at college, and didn’t need to ask permission.  But when I came home for summer break and knew I would be wearing a bathing suit all summer (see #7) I decided to tell my mom.  She was driving on Route 66 on our way to Tyson’s Corner Mall (that’s a pretty busy stretch of road).  I started the conversation by saying, “Mom, I have something to tell you.”  We’re lucky she didn’t run off the road for all she thought I was going to say.  She took it in stride, though, and made me tell my dad.
  10. My mom took me on a trip to Thailand after I graduated from college.  I realized how sheltered I had been and how much bigger the world was than I had ever imagined.
  11. Jane Austen is my favorite, but she hasn’t always been.  When I was in college, I studied abroad in Bath, England, with a program called Advanced Studies in England.  A handful of students from my college, Mary Washington, enrolled to take a film studies class on Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.  We also had to take one of two core classes, and I took Jane Austen in Bath.  Persuasion, set partially in Bath, was required reading.  The experience was phenomenal.  We traveled to Cornwall, to Wales, to Stonehenge, and I fell in love with Austen and England.
  12. I hate folding clothes.  Ugh.  If you came to my house, you would find an pile of laundry on the floor in the living room that no one particularly cares to deal with.  I would rather be reading.  Don’t judge.
  13. I got everything I ever wanted when I started teaching AP English in 2009.  I realized then that I needed to make some new goals for myself because I’m not sure that I’m one of those people who can teach in the same place for 30 years of a career.  There’s a stability and security in that, but I want more.
  14. Stu and I sometimes communicate better by text, especially when we’re fighting.  I guess it helps us to get our frustrations out without saying something that will really hurt.
  15. When we are too busy, we calendar date nights and family time.  We share a Google calendar so we can see the stuff we have on deck.

Whoa.  That was a much easier 1,045 words than I expected.  Thanks for reading, everyone!

It’s Easter, y’all!

Tonight is Easter Sunday, and I’m sitting in my pajamas watching Pitch Perfect with my little girl.  She’s up a little late tonight because after coming home from church and a long brunch, we all rested a little too long.  It feels like a pretty ordinary Sunday.  But so much about today is extraordinary.

I don’t remember much about Easter growing up; my folks made me Easter baskets, and sometimes I went to church with my neighbors across the street.  I don’t remember elaborate meals or new dresses and fancy hats.  Honestly, I don’t know that I understood the significance of the day at all.  But when I was 23 years old, I watched The Passion of the Christ and committed my heart and my life to a savior who subjected himself to so much for me.  My life changed forever.  The next week I went to my first church service on Easter that actually meant something.  When I understood how Jesus suffered on the cross, I finally understood how his resurrection was such a big deal.  Then the Easter I had celebrated as a child, the Easter of bunnies, candy, and new shoes seemed insignificant.

Today, my family celebrated Easter by serving at our church.  I worked with the media team, Stu served on the welcome team, Cari… well, I saw her a few times, but mostly she ran around like she owned the place.  We sang and laughed and cried (I did, anyway) and prayed a lot.  Cari got an Easter basket, of course, and we even shared a delicious meal with my dad, complete with endless mimosas.  It hasn’t been a fussy Easter, but a peaceful, joyful one.

How did you celebrate Easter yesterday?  Does your family have significant traditions?

Daddy’s girl

I’m a lucky girl.  I have an incredibly patient, loving husband, a sweet daughter who brings me joy, and sweet kisses, every day, and a set of parents who have shared their best qualities with me.  I’m sure there will be space in this blog to talk about my mom at some point in the future–she’s my best friend, after all–but I want to dedicate some space to my dad.

When I was in high school, a boy made me cry.  I was on a non-date with a boy who had a pretty serious crush on me, and when he found out I wasn’t over another boy, he got mean.  So he drove me home, and I was so mad and hurt, I opened the front door and burst into tears before I knew my dad was waiting up, sitting on the couch, reading some thriller.  I sat next to him and he let me cry and sniffle all over his polo shirt.  In a classic Dad response to my tearfulness, he asked if he needed to get a gun.  He was serious.

I worked as a lifeguard in Lorton, Virginia, about 20 minutes from my home in Alexandria, one summer during high school.  The apartment complex was not exactly the nicest place to live, much less work, but it was good money, and I got lots of hours.  Unfortunately, the clientele wasn’t always the best.  One day, a prospective tenant came to the pool and decided to take interest in a young woman with special needs.  I was protective, as the man was clearly taking advantage.  When I contacted the rental office, they told me to call the police if he showed up again.  When he came back the next day, with trembling fingers, I called 911 for the first time in my life.  My next call was to my mom and dad: both picked up lines in their different spots in the house, and when I haltingly, tearfully told my story, I don’t think my dad even hung up the phone before grabbing the driver from his golf bag and snatching up his keys.  He tore down Telegraph Road in his Pontiac Grand Prix, making the drive in a ridiculously short, ridiculously fast trip.  Fortunately, the police showed up before my dad did or they might have had a messier situation to resolve.  As it was, Dad put the car in park in the middle of the road, got out of the car with his driver in hand, talking to the police with that threatening look of a father whose little girl was upset.

My dad is a lot of things: ornery, loving, generous, sentimental, protective, grouchy.  He picks up the phone whenever I call and tolerates my rambling stories of my daily adventures, only complaining a little that it takes me forever to get to the point.  He’s not perfect: he doesn’t always take my sides in arguments when I want him to and he uses lots of bad words (he’s better about that now that Cari’s around and listening).  But he’s an awesome dad and friend to me, even now.  He cares enough to know weird little details like who my principal was five years ago, and to invest his time showing an interest in my projects like my novel and my blog.

I’m not trying to pretend there haven’t been dark parts of our relationship, too, but those might not be suited for this space.

But my dad is dying.  In 2008, he had to undergo a double bypass (while my mom was in the hospital in need of a quintuple bypass herself… that’s a story for another time).  It took months for my dad to recover from the procedure.  He stayed in ICU for days on the ventilator because his damaged lungs wouldn’t cooperate and start functioning on their own again.  That might be the one of the worst experiences of my life–visiting my sedated dad in ICU, watching as his chest rose and fell artificially, forced, almost erratically, by the ventilator.  When he finally recovered enough to be taken off the ventilator, it was months before he could come home.  He’s never been the same since.  More recently, his health has been deteriorating further, leading his doctors to suggest that he start making preparations.

I’ve known for a long time that Dad wasn’t going to endure forever.  He has never been shy to talk with me about it; even when he wasn’t sick, Dad made sure I knew what his wishes were.  But in 2008, when my parents gave me Power of Attorney, sitting in a bright hospital room the day before my parents went into surgery, the reality of their mortality struck me in a most painful, abrupt way.  I guess I’m lucky to have some warning.  I’m able to value the relationship I have with my dad.  I try not to say things I’ll regret.  I take the time to really talk with him, even if that means sitting in the car long after I’ve gotten home from school.  I read his blog, which is his way of coping with the inevitability of death.  Mostly, I try to cultivate a relationship with him that I can remember when he’s gone.

This one’s a little moody, sorry about that.  Thanks for reading!